Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Explaining India’s missing girls (Part I)

Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

Sex ratio, the ratio  of males to females in a population, is a sensitive indicator that displays the status of women in a society. It is mainly the outcome of the interplay of sex differentials in mortality, sex selective migration, sex ratio at birth and at times the sex differential in population enumeration.  The overall sex ratio in India had always remained unfavorable to females. Moreover, barring some hiccups, it has shown a long term declining trend to reach 927 females per 1000 males in 1991 from 972 in 1901 and 946 in 1951. Of the total population  of India in 2011, 623.7 million were males and 586.5 million were females, giving a sex ratio of 940 females per 1000 males, which is higher than the sex ratio observed in 2001 (933). Though marginal, this is a welcome improvement over the 2001 census. Further, it is for the first time that two consecutive censuses have shown an increase in general sex ratio at the national level[1]. This probably reflects an improvement in the relative census coverage of the female population as well as some genuine changes in the status of females, as reveled by the declining maternal mortality ratios (from 327 in 1999-2001 to 212 in 2007-09) and increasing expectation of life at birth (from 65.3 years in 1996-2001 to 68.1 years in 2006-10). Drastic   improvement in overall sex ratio in coming years will largely depend on efforts to improve the status of women especially girl child. If recent declining trends in child sex ratio (no of girls per 1000 boys in age group 0-6) continue[2], it is most likely that the recent gains in overall sex ratio may disappear in couple of decades. Thus, an understanding of intermediate factors influencing   child sex ratio is must in order to suggest effective policy actions.

This blog examines the recent decline in the child sex ratio (CSR) in India and relates its emergence to the three intermediate variables: prenatal technology, declining fertility, and gender bias using available census and other data[3].

Before the Census 2011 results were declared on March 30, 2011, it was widely assumed that CSR would register some improvement over 2001 findings[4].  However, the results reported a steep fall in the ratio again, and this is   most depressing finding of the Census of India 2011.  According to the Indian decennial censuses, CSR went down from 945 girls per 100 boys in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and further to 914 in 2011.  In fact this is the lowest child sex ratio recorded since India’s Independence in 1947. The decline of 13 points between  2001 and 2011 as compared to 18 points between 1991 and 2001 may offer some consolation to all those concerned with  the issue. However, the actual number of missing girls in the age group 0-6 has increased significantly in last two decades.

 To be concluded

[1] Kothari, Devendra. 2011. Implications of Emerging Demographic Scenario: Based on the Provisional Results of Census of India 2011, A Brief, a publication of Management Institute of Population and Development. Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi.

[2] In 2011, the child sex ratio was 914 girls per 1,000 boys and trended to reduce to 899 in 2021. 

[3] For more information on this issue, refer papers by:  Christophe Z. Guilmoto, “Son preference, sex selection, and kinship in Vietnam,” Population and Development Review 38(1) 2012:31-54; Rachel Murphy, Ran Tao, and Xi Lu. 2011, “Son Preference in Rural China: Patrilineal families and Socioeconomic Change, Population and Development Review 37(4) 2011:665-690. Also see: UNFPA, Sex Ratio at birth in South East Asia with a focus on Vietnam: An annotated bibliography designed to guide further policy research, UNFPA, 2010.

[4] This assumption was due, in no small part, to efforts by the central and state governments to discourage the abortion of female fetuses, including the passage of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act In 1994, which outlawed the practice as well as the efforts of several NGOs to create awareness against abortion of female fetuses.